Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Year In Review: Ambleside Online Y4 (2015-2016)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

I also don't want to be duplicate or encroach on all the excellent work that Ambleside Online has done over the years.  Their dedication and service to the Charlotte Mason community is astounding, and such an enormous gift.  Please visit their site and take a look at the Year 4 program if you'd like to learn more about what they so generously offer.

This is Gregory's second year using Ambleside Online for the vast majority of his work.  The review of his first year can be found here.  I'm going to follow a similar format as last year.

You can also see what we study as a family here.

Gregory's cannon

Daily and Weekly Subjects


At the beginning of the year, Gregory completed 10 minutes of cursive copywork each day, copying all of Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The poem is assigned for Y4, and I thought it would be a neat exercise and some nice cursive practice for him to copy the entire poem.  I printed the whole poem in a large cursive print, and he copied it into a notebook I made with my Proclick.  He enjoyed the project, and it was a good experience for him.  It took all of Term 1 and into Term 2 to copy the whole poem at that rate, and what a feeling of accomplishment when he finished it!

After finishing this, I wanted Gregory to start practicing copying from print into cursive.  I pulled out some 3x5 cards with various short scripture passages, quotes, and sayings printed on them that I had used with Emma ages ago and had him copy those into a notebook in cursive.  I also included his writing for grammar as copywork (more below) so his copywork practice was a mixture of the print to cursive and print to print.  I probably should be giving him more writing to do, but he tends to get pencil fatigue quickly so I try to keep that sort of work light for him.

Reading Practice 

Gregory reads extremely fluently and was able to read all of his own school books by himself this year (hooray!)  However, I still had him sit with me for about 10 minutes 3-4 times a to read aloud.  I particularly wanted to work on his enunciation when reading aloud as well as to help him to understand better how to read punctuation.  He read California Stepping Stones (a California history book that is interesting, but written a little more simply than the typical Y4 book) and Toliver's Secret.  I like reading books that are a little more simple than his typical school reading so that we can really focus on what it takes to read aloud well.


Gregory continued with MEP, and finished Level 3 a few days before the end of the school year.  We work on math for 30 minutes each day, and I did not end up using the teacher's plans much at all.  I don't think this is a good thing, and I hope to include more activities from the teacher's plans next year.  I also started having him do the Calculadder drills in Term 3 to give him a little more basic math facts practice.  I recently started doing these drills orally rather than in writing because I felt that the time pressure was causing his handwriting to deteriorate.  I'm not sure I like this, but I do think he'd find his math a lot easier if he had the math facts a little more readily available.


In Term I I had Gregory look up the locations of his readings on our wall map and globe, but I found after an abysmal result in the geography portion of his first term exams that he wasn't retaining much of it.  In Term 2 I started having him do map drills with the maps I have from Classically Catholic Memory, and this was a big improvement.  I wouldn't recommend their program, but their large laminated maps are beautiful, sturdy, and nice to work with.  I don't use the stickers though, I made and laminated little name cards for Nathan and Gregory to use in their map drills.  Gregory worked on Europe with these maps, and I also had Gregory reviewing US Geography using the Stack the States and TapQuiz Maps apps.


This year I had Gregory start a timeline in his binder, much like Celeste describes here.  This went reasonably well, although we ended up adding extra flaps to give him a little more space.  His handwriting can still be a little on the large size, and I was having him write the date as well as the name or event.  This wasn't for any particular reason, it just seemed like a good idea in the moment, although looking back on it I don't think I should have had him do that!

We were also much more consistent with our nature journals this year.  We did at least one entry almost every week, and while it got easier for him, it was not exactly a favorite activity.  In each journal entry I had him do a label, date, sketch and a sentence.

Nature journaling in the little meadow below our house


Gregory started Latin this year, using Classical Academic Press' Latin for Children Primer A program.  We didn't get that far in the program, because I wanted to make sure he knew the vocabulary and understood the concepts before moving to the next section.  We plugged away regularly at it, but it took awhile before he really started getting the concepts.  I ended up creating a lot more worksheets for him for practice because the workbook was no where near enough review.  I also set up a Quizlet deck with the vocabulary so he could review that.  The audio didn't end up being all that helpful and was quite time consuming, so we stopped using that after the first term.  I also tried HeadventureLand.com for review, but found that it entertaining, but not particularly effective.  The additional worksheets, vocab review with Quizlet, and reviewing the declensions and conjugations quickly during our morning time recitation worked a lot better.  At this point he's getting the hang of it and we're starting to move faster.

Foreign Language

I grouped Nathan and Gregory together to study Spanish, and this worked well.  I used Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Fran├žois, and while we didn't get all the far in the book, we made steady and enjoyable progress.  In Term 3 I set up a binder much like Simply Charlotte Mason's Scripture Memory box and spent the first part of the lesson reviewing the different sections.  I have the book as a PDF, so it was easy to print out the pages individually and stick them in different sections of the binder.  This made our review process so much easier and more fruitful!  I also added our Spanish poems to the binder, as well as some of the additional memory work from the book.  We then ended the lesson with a song in Spanish.  By far their favorite was El Baile de Las Manos by Wistlefritz, probably because it has exuberant full body motions.  But we also played and sang some of the other songs from the Whistlefritz CD too.


I tried origami in the fall, but between a bad time slot and not enough individual attention for learning it, it was a fail.  I really didn't do much more with Gregory this year, because I saw how much building and creating he was doing outside with his rafts, weapons, forts, and other projects and decided that I'd let that "count" as handicrafts.  He does have some interest in sewing, however, and we did a few small things over the year here and there.  We're planning on making some beach bags this summer which should be a fun project.


Gregory and Nathan both started piano this year using the online lessons from Hoffman Academy lessons.  I love that it is taught by a male teacher and that he has a real gift for teaching piano and making these video lessons work.  I am so impressed by what he has done to try and make piano lessons more affordable and accessible.  The boys have responded really well to the lessons and while we have moved slowly (in part my fault for not being consistent in introducing new lessons but also because I want them to be really solid in a lesson before moving on) they are learning and they are definitely enjoying it.


Grammar started out as a total fail in Term 1.  We were using KISS Grammar and it wasn't making much sense to either of us once we got to the part about complements.  I didn't like that the terminology that this program used was different from what I've encountered when studying Latin.  After Term 1 I regrouped, remembered I had Winston Grammar on my shelf, and off we went.  The physical act of laying cards on the table to build out the sentence works extremely well for Gregory, and he finally started getting the hang of the basics of Grammar.  I also had him copying some of the sentences he had already built with the cards into his binder and marking them up as directed by the program.  I counted this as copywork and grammar.  The sentences aren't exactly what I'm looking for when doing copywork, but again I was trying to keep the amount of pencil work down for Gregory and it seemed like a good compromise.


Gregory is not one of those natural spellers at all.  Even though he reads very well, spelling the simplest words was an extreme challenge for him.  I really wasn't sure dictation was going to be enough for him, and I was just about ready to buy a fancy spelling curriculum for him when I decided that I should at least give Miss Mason the benefit of the doubt.  I decided to use Spelling Wisdom Book 1 from Simply Charlotte Mason for our dictation this year and that was a very helpful resource.  I really appreciated not having to find my own dictation sentences and using something that was an open and go resource.  In working with Gregory, I noticed very quickly that while he could read extremely well, he had no idea about letter sequencing in a word.  I found it worked extremely well for him to study the sentence with our movable alphabet, pulling the letters out of the tray in the order they appear in the word.  After he had built the words and considered them, then I read the sentence word by word and watched him spell it out with the movable alphabet.  After he was comfortable with this, then we would write it.  It was rare that he would ever misspell a word after this process.  And he retained the spelling of words quite well, and started being able to figure out the sequencing of letters on simpler words on his own too, which was very exciting.  I am so thrilled with his progress in this area, because this approach has really worked wonders.

Studying the words in preparation for writing them as dictation

Other Subjects

Other subjects, such as recitation (memory work), music appreciation, artist and composer study happened (or not) in the context of our family time.  Plutarch also happened as part of our family time during lunch, and Shakespeare was studied with a group of other families.  Directed art was pretty much non-existent this year, except for our evening drawing practice.

The Booklist

Most of these books are from Ambleside Online's Y4 program.  Please see their site for the full schedule, extremely helpful weekly breakdown of readings, and lots of other helpful information.

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduledbooks in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are his favorites.

This Country of Ours
Poor Richard
Abigail Adams
George Washington’s World
California Stepping Stones - Read Aloud
*Rare Catholic Stories
A Little Book About Confession for Children - w/ Nathan
King of the Golden City
*Little Apostle on Crutches - w/ Nathan
The Cross in the West
The Storybook of Science
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding
Madam How and Lady Why
D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths
Bullfinch’s Age of Fables
Robinson Crusoe
*The Incredible Journey
Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Paul Revere’s Ride - copywork
Rip Van Winkle

If you're familiar with the Ambleside booklist, you'll notice a few things are missing, namely:

Trial and Triumph - I decided I would rather focus on men who brought the faith to the Western United States like St. Junipero Serra and the noble men discussed in The Cross in the West.  Besides, I'm Catholic.  :-)

Bible Readings - We read and narrate the Mass readings just about every day in our home, so everyday the children are hearing and narrating from the Old Testament or Epistles and the Gospels.  I decided that since these readings aren't always in order, I would also read a Bible story book to give the children a better grounding in the chronology of the Bible.  I'm growing less and less happy with this solution, and I will probably change it for next year.

Minn of the Mississippi - We read this as a family the year before last, and I decided to have a more western US focus to our geography this year.  I used The Cross in the West as both a faith reading and geography, and this worked reasonably well.  

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas - Um, I overlooked this one.  Oops.

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Rare Catholic Stories - Honestly, I'm not sure why I scheduled this book for this year.  We read it last year, finishing it in the fall of the 2014-2015 school year.  I'm wondering if I actually meant another book, but picked up this one when it came time to read by mistake.  Gregory really likes the stories in this collection though, and didn't mind hearing it again.  it didn't get finished because the Confession book went long, and it is a longer book than what I had put in my schedule.  (Like I said, I think I meant to pick up a different book!)

BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding) - I'm coming to the conclusion that this book is more trouble than it is worth.  There are some good ideas for demonstrations in there, but the can require an awful lot of me.  I am glad I did some of them, like the section about the seasons...  but on the whole I'm not sure it is really the right way to go.

Madame How and Lady Why - This book drives me slightly crazy.  Some of the science in the book is atrociously wrong, and some of the things Kingsley says about people in other countries make me want to scream.  However, I think the distinction he makes between how and why are incredibly vital to the study of science, and I get why this book is part of AO's curriculum.  It is a book that requires censoring and paraphrasing, and once I came to terms with that, as well as the the purpose of the book, I felt a lot better about it.  We started it late though, and only ended up reading the first three chapters.

Age of Fable - I read the Preface to this book and thought, "there is no way this is going to work for Gregory!" so I decided we would read D'Aulaire's Greek Myths first before diving into Age of Fable. Had I read a little further and realized that the introductory material is much stiffer than the actual fables, I'm not sure I would have bothered.  We are about a term behind in this book.

Practicing turning wood on a lathe

Favorites From Gregory's Reading

I keep a list of everything the kids read (they have to put their finished books on my desk and then I log them and shelve them weekly) and I had Gregory look over the list and select his favorites.  Some of these books are re-reads, and some he read multiple times this year.

Books with a + before them were on his free reading shelf.

Harry Potter Series (He's only read books 1-5)
Redwall Series
Buried Treasure of the South by W.C. Jameson
A Smijj of Danger and Telmaja by Erin Manning
St. Katherine Drexel by Ellen Tarry
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
A Nose for Trouble by Jim Kjelgaard
+ Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes
Wyatt Earp: US Marshal by Steward H Holbrook
+ John Paul Jones, Soldier of the Sea by Donald Worchester
+ Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit
+ Pocahontas and Captain John Smith by Marie Lawson
They Flew to Glory by Robert Sidney Bowen
+ Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel C. Brill
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
The Secret of the Indian by Lynne Reid Banks
+ Stowaway by Karen Hesse
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
+ Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham


  1. That cannon is awesome!!!

    I bought The Cross in the West because we don't own it yet. It sounds like one my kids will like, especially after their reading last year.

    I own BFSU also and haven't used it yet. I think most of the topics there eventually get taught via AO and life, and in a more organic way. But I am not totally giving up the idea of using it together in the future. ;)

    1. I definitely think your kids will enjoy The Cross in the West. There's some amazing people in there that they probably have never heard of, which is fun. I certainly hadn't heard of most of them!

      And I agree with you about BFSU - I think they will be learned via AO and life as well, but I'm not ready to part with it either.